Classroom Activities & Resources

Do you need engaging, TEKS/TAKS aligned activities for your K-12 students? With these activities, your students can explore astronomy, physics and chemistry in their classroom.

Shadow PlayPDF icon183K pdf
Subjects: Our Solar System
Grade Levels: K-5

Everyone and everything has a shadow. Shadows illustrate how three-dimensional objects can be viewed in two dimensions. Younger students can learn about the Sun’s relative motion in the sky as they experiment with shadows.

Modeling the Night SkyPDF icon387K pdf
Subjects: Our Solar System, Observing the Sky
Grade Levels:
K-5

Students explore the Earth and Sun's postions in relation to the constellations of the ecliptic with a small model. Then they extend to explore the motions of the Earth and inner planets in a larger classroom-size model. A very interactive and fun activity.

Observing the MoonPDF icon276K pdf
Subjects: Our Solar System, Observing the Sky
Grade Levels:
K-5

Does the Moon always look the same? Does it's surface look different at different times? Students explore these questions by making drawings of the moon at different times.

Scale Distances in the Solar SystemPDF icon 104K pdf
Subjects: Our Solar System
Grade Levels:
K-5

Using a long thin strip of paper, students first try to guess the relative distances between the Sun, solar system members, and Pluto. Afterwards the teacher instructs them to fold the paper in a special sequence to discover the proper spacing.

Solar System Size Scale Model DemoPDF icon 84K pdf
Subjects: Our Solar System
Grade Levels:
K-5

A reference sheet that provides information on how to create a demonstration using a basketball, volleyball, softballs, marbles, and other objects to demonstrate the relative sizes of the planets in our solar system.

Seeing the Invisible: Dust in the Universe
Subjects: Tools of the Astronomer, Electromagnetic Radiation
Grade Levels: K-5, 6-8, 9-12

Dust is all around us: at home, on Earth, and in space. Explore the properties of dust and the astronomical research of dust in space with these three grade-appropriate inquiry based activities from McDonald Observatory.

Planet Tours
Subjects: Our Solar System
Grade Levels: 6-8

In this creative activity, students learn about an object in our solar system and create a travel brochure or advertisement to attract future space tourists to their exotic destination. Engages students with both facts and imagination.

Solar System SciencePDF icon95K pdf
Subjects: Our Solar System
Grade Levels: 6-8

Students explore and compare planets in our solar system. Each student becomes the 'ambassador' for a planet and prepares by researching their planet, then meets with other ambassadors to form new mini-solar systems.

Rock Cycle
Subjects: Our Solar System
Grade Levels: 6-8

After learning about Earth's rock cycle and the basic characteristics of objects in the solar system, students can consider how to extend this concept to other worlds beyond Earth.

Equatorial SundialPDF icon156K pdf
Subjects: Observing the Sky
Grade Levels: 6-8

One of astronomy's first tools to measure the flow of time, a sundial is simply a stick that casts a shadow on a face marked with units of time. There are many types of sundials; an equatorial sundial is easy to make and teaches fundamental astronomical concepts.

Scale ModelsPDF icon111K pdf
Subjects: Our Solar System
Grade Levels: 6-8

What are the relative sizes and distances of objects in the solar system? Students create two 'mystery objects' out of play-dough to learn about scale models.

Reflective Solar Cooker
Subjects: Our Solar System, Electromagnetic Radiation
Grade Levels:
6-8

Students build a reflective solar cooker that uses the Sun's energy to cook marshmallows. This activity requires adult supervision.

Telescope Technology
Subjects: Tools of the Astronomer
Grade Levels:
6-8, 9-12

Large telescope designs have changed significantly over the last few decades, with an growing emphasis on using segmented mirrors. This activity series consists of 4 challenges that students complete to discover how and why astronomers design and use segmented mirror telescopes.

Sunspots
Subjects: Our Solar System
Grade Levels:
6-8, 9-12

Sunspots are some of the most notable features of the Sun. Use a telescope to track the changes in position and shape of sunspots over time. This activity requires adult supervision.

Sunspot AnatomyPDF icon538K pdf
Subjects: Our Solar System
Grade Levels:
6-8, 9-12

Sunspots are much more than just tiny dark spots on the Sun. This activity covers the characteristics of sunspots and uses the concepts of scale to teach students to grasp the size of these dynamic magnetic events.

Exploring Black Holes
Subjects: Galaxies and Cosmology, Stars
Grade Levels:
9-12

What is a black hole? How do astronomers find them? What's an event horizon? Take your students on a quest for these answers in these activities that use the Black Hole Encyclopedia.

Make Your Own Galaxy
Subjects: Galaxies and Cosmology
Grade Levels:
9-12

What is a spiral galaxy? How are its components arranged? Do stars collide? Do galaxies collide? Help your students explore these concepts with this hands-on galaxy activity that uses simple calculations.

Journey Into Spectroscopy
Subjects: Tools of the Astronomer
Grade Levels: 9-12

A spectroscope is an observing instrument that reveals the color components of a light source. Students will construct their own spectroscope as they explore and observe spectra of familiar light sources. Extension activities expand their understanding of different kinds of spectra and sharpen their observing skills.

Color of Stars
Subjects: Stars
Grade Levels: 9-12

Students observe colors in the flame of a burning candle to explore connections between matter, light, color, and temperature — basic concepts of matter and energy. They elaborate on these basic concepts in a new context of astronomy and stars. The second half of the activity investigates star colors and relative sizes.

Super Gelatin
Subjects: Tools of the Astronomer
Grade Levels: 9-12

Can gelatin (like Jell-O) change the speed of light? Students investigate the refraction properties of gelatin to calculate its index of refraction and discover that as the light travels through the gelatin, its speed and wavelength also change. This activity offers students a challenge to find the index of refraction of an everyday, intriguing, translucent substance outside the standard listing of materials and refraction indexes.

Astro-Madness
Subjects: Tools of the Astronomer
Grade Levels:
9-12

In this activity, students learn about the different telescopes and instruments that are available at McDonald Observatory. They use this information to assist a group of scientists in deciding which of McDonald Observatory's resources will best suit their projects. Each "problem situation" requires critical thinking. We recommend following this activity with TAC.

Telescope Allocation Committee
Subjects: Tools of the Astronomer
Grade Levels: 9-12

This activity acquaints the students with the telescopes and instruments available at an astronomical observatory: McDonald Observatory. Students serve as members of the Telescope Allocation Committte (TAK) to review (sometimes amusing) research proposals from imaginary astronomers, and then write acceptance/rejection letters to the astronomers.

Delta, Delta, Delta
Subjects: Tools of the Astronomer
Grade Levels:
9-12

In this experiment, students construct an equilateral triangle using graph paper, pencil, protractor and a ruler. They also make a "laser triangle" using a laser pointer and front-silvered mirrors. Students can use the geometric properties of an equilateral triangle combined with their understanding of the Law of Reflection to decide how to place the mirrors at each vertex so that the "laser triangle" fits their equilateral triangle.

Hot Air
Subjects: Tools of the Astronomer
Grade Levels: 9-12

Students witness light refracting through air everyday. On hot days, "ripples" rise from the ground or roadways. Stars twinkle in the night sky. The Sun looks squashed on the horizon at sunrise and sunset. Students can explore the interaction between air and light through this "Hot Air" activity in order to understand more complicated everyday phenomena.

Mirror, Mirror
Subjects: Tools of the Astronomer
Grade Levels: 9-12

In this activity, students test the Law of Reflection based on experimental evidence. However, the back-silvered glass mirrors present a twist. As light travels from air into glass, it changes direction (refracts), reflects off the shiny metal back coating, then changes direction again upon emerging from the glass. The reflected ray may not match up with students' expectations, and offers them a challenge to work out what happened as the light traveled into and out of the mirror.

The Milky Way
Subjects: Observing the Sky, Galaxies and Cosmology
Grade Levels: 9-12

Stretching across the dark night sky, not easily visible when the Moon is in the sky, is a faint irregular glowing strip of light. For thousands of years peoples of various cultures tried to explain what they saw, sometimes using stories. In this activity students create their own stories about our galaxy, the Milky Way.

Stars and GalaxiesPDF icon107K pdf
Subjects: Galaxies and Cosmology, Stars
Grade Levels:
9-12

Galaxies contain billions of stars. Students apply the concepts of scale to grasp the distances between stars and galaxies to investigate the questions: Do galaxies collide? If so, do the stars within them collide?

Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Subjects: Galaxies and Cosmology
Grade Levels: 9-12

Students learn the basics of galaxy classification and grouping, then use Hubble Space Telescope images to discover the 'morphology-density effect' and make hypotheses about its causes.

Elliptical OrbitsPDF icon228K pdf
Subjects: Our Solar System
Grade Levels:
9-12

For thousands of years astronomers tried to model the motion of objects in the sky using circles or combinations of cirlces. Then in 1609, Johannes Kepler proved that the shape of planetary orbits are actually ellipses. Learn to draw ellipses and calculate their basic properties using Kepler's three laws.

Multiwavelength Astronomy
Subjects: Electromagnetic Radiation, Galaxies and Cosmology
Grade Levels: 9-12

Students review basic concepts about the electromagnetic spectrum, and then do activites about false-color imaging, Wien’s law, and galactic astronomy. They will combine all of this knowledge to see how observing galaxies at different wavelengths enables astronomers to gather huge amounts of fascinating information about galactic structure and composition.

Lives of Stars
Subjects: Stars
Grade Levels:
9-12

This activity is an opportunity for students to learn about the fundamental characterisitcs of stars and their life cycles. Students perform a play as members take the role of several different stars. As the play progresses, students develop an understanding of the most fundamental concepts in stellar astronomy.

Navigating the Night Sky
Subjects: Observing the Sky
Grade Levels:
9-12

What is in the sky tonight? How do you know where and when to look for a certain star? This activity introduces star maps and star wheels as tools for learning about the night sky.

Waves
Subjects: Electromagnetic Radiation
Grade Levels:
9-12

A background lesson on the physics of waves. Students use slinkies to discover the properties of transverse and longitudinal waves. Next the teacher demonstrates wave superposition using sound editing free software and a musical instrument.

Interview With a White Dwarf
Subjects: Stars
Grade Levels: 9-12

This activity is an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and understanding of the gas law, conservation of energy, and forces to stellar evolution. Students perform as members of an interview with our Sun at the end of its star-life, in the white dwarf stage. Students follow the life story of this white dwarf via text, plots, and pictures. For each evolution stage, they review the properties of the star and calculate a few others.

Properties of White Dwarfs
Subjects: Stars
Grade Levels:
9-12

Astronomers determine the properties of white dwarfs based on observations using a telescope and light sensitive instruments. Students will follow many of the same steps astronomers do to find the basic properties of a white dwarf. During their investigation, students will draw on mathematics skills (algebra) and geometry concepts.

Age of the Milky Way
Subjects: Stars
Grade Levels:
9-12

A white dwarf is the final stage in the life of a star like the Sun that slowly cools down by radiating light. Knowing how the white dwarf’s temperature changes with time (cooling), astronomers can deduce the age of the white dwarf. By observing lots of white dwarfs and calculating their temperatures, astronomers can estimate the age of the Galaxy. Students learn about cooling curves by measuring the temperature decline in boiling water and extend those concepts to cooling white dwarfs.

Exploring Light: The Optics of Diffraction
Subjects: Electromagnetic Radiation
Grade Levels: 9-12

Astronomers use diffraction of light to disperse (or spread out) colors of light from astronomical light sources into a spectrum. The spectrum is then used to measure the physical characteristics of that source. This activity provides an opportunity for hands-on understanding of the phenomenon of diffraction of light.

Classroom activities